Othiniel Kanjonja: Drawing with Steel

IT IS a panorama of a typical village set-up silhouetted against a horizon of a blue sky and savannah woodland. The scene highlights people in their natural habitat doing their everyday chores.
A young girl is just returning from drawing water, she is still carrying a bucket on her head. Other two girls are seen pounding from a giant mortar.
In a distance, some elderly men are seen seated in one of the thatched shelters forming the sanctuary.
The rest of the view keeps the eye searching through the village scene. It can be any village on the Zambian landscape.
But this is only a painting dubbed ‘Village Scene’ by one Othiniel Kanjonja. The versatile artist vividly depicts Zambian everyday life with a rare breed of creativity.
“I usually depict rural life and life on the sidelines of the city,” Othiniel said.
The soft-spoken artist says he feels like the voice for the marginalised society where he feels the lifestyle speaks a lot about our culture.
Othiniel resourcefully employs metal collage on board to draw his figures. A metal strip becomes his pencil and the board takes up the place of the traditional paper.
Othiniel explained that the metal material embedded in his works signifies a solid platform on which he galvanises his thoughts.
His choice of material is also driven by the urge to be different. Othiniel explained that every artist can choose to paint or sculpt, but what is absorbing is the way the exploit is done.
Indeed, Othiniel, who is a fully-fledged sculptor, employs a different approach to conventional collage technique.
Although his initial works usually possessed a plain dark background, the artist has recently introduced a more detailed background to his themes.
A typical example is the “Village Scene” painting which has the backdrop painted in acrylic juxtaposed with the traditional metal figures.
Othiniel has also introduced fabric of chitenge in his recent exploits. He explained that, besides the colourful motifs, the fabric potrays interesting information about our culture.
He joins Stary Mwaba, who has religiously employed chitenge fabric in collage of his paintings.
Nonetheless, Othiniel’s application of the fabric in his drawings has a completely different facade.
Ultimately, the unique feature about Othiniel’s works, which I am reluctant to refer to as paintings because of their sculptural form, are silhouettes of perforated figures. These distinct figures remain a unique feature on the Zambian art scene.
Another interesting feature about Othiniel’s work is his art’s gigantic nature. He seems to nod to the cliché “size matters”.
The artist, with a desirable number of his works collected, said he wants his works to have a huge physical presence in public space.
So there you have it, there is actually more to Othiniel’s work than what meets the eye.

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